GPs report small rise in number of flu patients

Patient receiving flu jab
Image caption The number of people seeking consultation at surgeries may rise due to media coverage

The number of people contacting GPs with flu-like symptoms has increased slightly as vaccine supplies at two major pharmacies run low.

Pharmacy chains Boots and Lloyds said their stores in Wales had little or no supplies of winter flu vaccine.

Health boards also have low stocks of flu vaccines.

However, the chair of the British Medical Association's GP committee for Wales said doctors had reported a drop in diagnosed flu cases since Christmas.

Dr David Bailey said media coverage and greater awareness about the flu vaccination programme was the reason for any continued rise in people seeking GP consultations.

Dr Bailey told BBC Wales: "Our figures suggest that the numbers of consultations are starting to drop.

"It's difficult to know if this is since Christmas as practices were obviously closed for several days, but members say it has been quieter on the ground this week.

"The number of flu cases is slightly higher than last year but the problem has been that because it is a newish virus and people are mainly suffering from the H1N1 swine flu virus, the numbers of people ending up in hospital with complications are higher."

Health officials said the small increase in consultations last week was common during the first week of January when people returned to work and school.

Levels of flu-like illness were said to be "within the usual seasonal activity range" but were "higher than Wales has experienced in recent years".

Andrew Jones, director of public health for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said doctors were currently treating two confirmed cases of swine flu at Wrexham Maelor Hospital but had overall seen a drop in flu cases.

He said: "GP surgeries reported a small drop for influenza-like illnesses over the Christmas period but it is expected that consultation rates may rise again."

Hywel Dda Health Board told BBC Wales it was still experiencing high volumes of admissions.

A spokeswoman said: "Hospitals across Hywel Dda are currently operating at a very high capacity due to increases in both general admissions and suspected H1N1 and seasonal flu cases.

"From a flu perspective, as of 1100 BST on 12 January, Withybush General Hospital in Pembroke was most impacted and treating 17 cases of flu.

"All hospitals have an escalation plan for such increases and this has been put in place across the board."

Meanwhile, swine flu vaccines are being released to GPs in south Wales whose stocks are running low of the seasonal flu vaccine.

The number of deaths this winter from flu across the UK verified by the Health Protection Agency stands at 50, with 45 of these due to swine flu.

Hospitals are advising those who have flu-like symptoms to contact NHS Direct on 0845 46 47 or phone their GP rather than attending A&E or doctors' surgeries, to prevent spread of infection.

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